Senate still at odds over whether to extend unemployment benefits for long-term jobless


“We’ve given them everything they wanted,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters before the vote, accusing the Republicans of not wanting to reach a deal. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

The Senate remained gridlocked Thursday over an effort to renew emergency unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless, including more than 1.7 million Americans who lost their benefits when the federal program expired in late December.

In a largely party-line vote, Democrats were a single vote shy of the 60 needed to break a filibuster by Republicans, who said that the latest proposal did not have a proper offsetting spending cut to lessen the impact on the federal deficit. Additionally, the two sides continued to squabble over procedural matters related to how many amendments the Republicans would be allowed to offer.

“We’ve given them everything they wanted,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters before the vote, accusing the Republicans of not wanting to reach a deal. “They can’t take yes for an answer.”

The latest Democratic proposal, sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), would extend the federal unemployment benefits program by three months, at a cost of $6.4 billion. That program, coming in the wake of the “Great Recession,” has provided additional benefits to unemployed workers who have exhausted the normal 26 weeks of insurance provided in each state.

Democrats had previously argued that these benefits should not be accompanied by offsetting cuts, because the purpose of the insurance program was to boost the unemployed as well as stimulate the economy. Reed’s latest proposal came with savings drawn from a plan that would allow companies to make different pension contributions based on historical averages, something that would lead to higher tax receipts for the Treasury.

Who are the long-term unemployed?

Just four Republicans — Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nev.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — supported the new proposal. With 55 members of the Democratic caucus in support, Reid needed just one more GOP vote to advance the bill into the formal debate. For procedural reasons, once the fate was certain, Reid voted with Republicans, making the final roll call 58 to 40.

Even if the Senate can reach a bipartisan deal on unemployment insurance, the House GOP majority has not shown interest in passing the legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has held much of his ranks together largely as a protest to Reid’s refusal to allow the minority to offer amendments unless they preemptively guarantee that the measure ultimately would be approved as written.

“If we could enter into such an agreement, that would be a step in the right direction toward getting the Senate back to at least something close to the way it used to be operated, under which bills like that would frequently be brought up with no stipulations, and we would just start processing amendments,” McConnell told reporters recently.

Paul Kane covers Congress and politics for the Washington Post.
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